Archive for April 18th, 2008

‘Mission civilisatrice?’ You wot?

Some excerpts from the Guardian report on Brown’s visit to the US.

special relationship….special relationship….special relationship….a special relationship…the modern phase of our special relationship..special relationship…special relationship.

Sadly, no detail is offered on what makes the relationship special. Perhaps one of the things that makes it special is the very fact that encounters between the two countries end up in much talk about a special relationship.

The idea of Britain having a special relationship with America appeals, I am guessing, to lots of people who have not come to terms with the fact that the sun set on the British Empire over 60 years ago. I am sure that the effects of that trauma persist to this day. What a special relationship with America means for such people is a feeling of closeness to the power and the glory of Empire.

Then you have the people whose delight in the products of American culture leads them to identify closely with it. It doesn’t really make sense to talk of a special relationship here because the existence of a special relationship implies that there must be other relationships worth talking about. But there aren’t.

Or perhaps it’s the language. People exult in the Anglosphere and talk about the benefits accruing from speaking the same language. In a critical review of a rather vulgar history of the ‘the English-Speaking Peoples‘, Christopher Hitchens points toward

a certain shared tradition, capacious enough to include a variety of peoples and ethnicities and expressed in a language—perhaps here I do betray a bias—uniquely hostile to euphemisms for tyranny

and also notes that:

English is, of course, the language of the English and American revolutions, whose ideas and values continue to live after those of more recent revolutions have been discredited and died.

But there is simply no way of knowing if one language can be ‘uniquely hostile to euphemisms for tyranny’, and anyway, no language forecloses the possibility of expressing any particular idea: Regrettably, bumming and blowing about the unique qualities of the English language is a common practice these days, in part the result of the incestuous belief that it is the English language itself that forms the basis for common greatness. The language becomes a totem for supremacist inclinations. Thus, it’s not that we are innately superior, since we are well above these things. No, no, no, dear boy, it’s the language that’s superior.

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April 2008